Pujols, Fielder share NLCS spotlight at first
Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols and Brewers counterpart Prince Fielder figure to be in high demand on the free-agent market in a few weeks.
First, everyone will get a chance to compare the two big first basemen side-by-side for themselves during the NL championship series.
''That's fine. You expect that,'' Fielder said Saturday. ''I don't think we're going to be doing it.''
Both have impressive resumes that will probably net massive paydays soon.
The 31-year-old Pujols is a three-time MVP and two-time Gold Glove winner who is the only player in major league history to hit 30 or more home runs in his first 11 seasons. He batted .299 with 37 homers and 99 RBIs in 147 games this year.
The 27-year-old Fielder became the youngest player in big league history to hit 50 homers in a season when he did it in 2007, and he's appeared in all but one of Milwaukee's games over the last three years. This season, he hit .299 with 38 homers and 120 RBIs.
''We talked a little bit during the season and every time I get to first base, just a couple of words to encourage each other,'' Pujols said. ''I think he did an unbelievable job to just zoom everything in and just concentrate on playing baseball.''
''Since his rookie season, we said, 'Are you for real?' He had to prove it over and over,'' Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. ''He handled it perfectly in spring training. We talked about it the first day in spring training, and he said no more, didn't want to be a distraction.
''He got off to a start this year, it was tough for whatever reasons, but ended up having a banner year. He's just immune. He's so strong between the ears, he knows exactly what he's responsible for, who he's responsible to and he will not back off that.''
The best-of-seven playoff begins Sunday in Milwaukee, with a trip to the World Series on the line.
Pujols, drafted by the Cardinals in 1999, is making $16 million this season in the last year of his $100 million, seven-year deal. He has often said he wants to remain in St. Louis for the rest of his career.
''He's handled it exactly like he said he was going to handle it. He's not talked about it. He hasn't brought it up. He doesn't want to talk about it. He just wants to go out and play,'' Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday said. ''Outside the first month, he's been as he has been his whole career. It didn't surprise me. His swing is as mechanically simple and easy to repeat as anybody's. He's the best player in the world.''
Fielder's only blip all season came when he said it was ''probably'' his last year in Milwaukee last month.
Fielder was a first-round pick by the Brewers in 2002. He and the organization have been on the same page all season, with general manager Doug Melvin saying repeatedly that Milwaukee will address Fielder's contract in the offseason.
''(To) be as good as he is with all that going on is incredible,'' Brewers right fielder Corey Hart said. ''He came back knowing that this might be his last year to be with us. We're like family. To have that chance to win together would be incredible.''
Fielder is playing under a $15.5 million, one-year deal he signed in January to avoid his final year of arbitration.
''(He's) really focused, but surprisingly really relaxed and having fun. And I say that 'surprisingly' just because sometimes with that free-agent year sometimes you put a little bit more pressure on yourself,'' Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. ''Sometimes you think you need to get after it a little bit more. But he's been really relaxed. He's always smiling, laughing. And I think that helps you play better.''
Fielder came into spring training by saying he was worry-free and that he wouldn't turn his contract situation into an uncomfortable soap opera. That attitude has paid off from the start.
He's been accommodating in the clubhouse and his two kids - Jadyn and Haven - have been by his side seemingly every step, including Friday night after the Brewers eliminated the Diamondbacks with a 3-2 victory in 10 innings in Game 5 of their first-round series. The two boys were riling up the crowd that remained, showing off the ''Beast Mode'' celebration that they helped to start.
''I'm getting older and I'm enjoying the game,'' Fielder said. ''I really want to save my bullets unless it's something that I really have no choice but to get serious about. I really just want to try to keep the peace and play baseball.
''We're having too good of a year and the fans are loving it. We've got the Monsters, Inc., thing with my kids - I'm in a happy place right now.''